In what he describes as “humbling recognition" of his research into mental health, Dr Lebogang Phahladira, specialist psychiatrist and senior lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry at Stellenbosch University (SU), has received the prestigious Global Schizophrenia Award.
The award was conferred on Phahladira by the Schizophrenia International Research Society (SIRS) and will be presented to him at the society's 2023 Annual Congress in Toronto, Canada in May this year.
Phahladira, a core member of the Psychosis Research Programme of the Department of Psychiatry, has been doing pioneering work on improving long-term treatment outcomes for schizophrenia and psychosis in the South African context. “These outcomes have not been well researched in Africa and the rest of the developing world," he says. “We would like to see patients with schizophrenia live optimally in their family environments, to complete their education, hold down jobs and live a full life."
The award was created to widen diversity and to support a SIRS member in a low- and middle-income country to attend their state-of-the-art annual congress.
In a letter to Phahladira, SIRS organisers said a number of highly accomplished individuals were nominated for the award, “making the decision extremely difficult". Phahladira says he was surprised and pleased to receive the award. “It feels great to be recognised by a global organisation like SIRS for the research we are doing in South Africa and on the continent, and our contributions to science.
“It's easy to do research in developed countries, where resources and support are available, but in Africa we work in research-constrained settings with competing priorities, and where mental health is low down on the list in terms of funding and other opportunities. To be recognised for our contribution by peers on an international front is very humbling."
He adds: “This award is thanks to the work of our entire schizophrenia research team at SU. The Department of Psychiatry has also for many years been very supportive of our efforts to make a contribution to research in schizophrenia.
“Above all, when you work for a university, you can only prosper when the environment is supportive, and I could not have been at a better place than SU. Here you can become anything you want to be, you can excel and compete at the highest level on the international front, and where you know you have support and encouragement in many ways from an institution that has a very special place in my heart."
Phahladira says he and his team will present various papers at the SIRS conference on the work they have been doing over the past decade.
“It will be a great opportunity to present our work at a congress, where international experts in schizophrenia gather every year to measure progress in schizophrenic research and to set new targets for research and clinical interventions.
“At the centre of it, for me, is that there are many other young people on the continent doing valuable work. I hope this award shines the light on the African continent not only in schizophrenia and psychiatry, but also in other disciplines, because science and research will not fully progress unless Africa is supported to take a step forward. We need deliberate investment in research across disciplines so that the whole world can work together to solve the problems of humanity."